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There is nothing like having cancer at 31 years of age, and seriously facing your mortality, to put a different spin on birthdays. I don’t mind the idea of getting older, I’m just happy to be alive. I feel that it has all been a gift, the last twenty years, and each year that passes is another deposit in my giftbag. So turning fifty hasn’t bothered me at all. The giftbag grows. As it happened, my 50th birthday party was the best way possible for entering the next part of my life. It was a party held out on Yasgar’s, I mean Cole’s, farm, I mean property, half an hour out of Hamilton. And will be now and forever known as Kstock.
Friends are the best. I come from a very small family – one sister, neither of us with children – our parents having died over ten years ago. In the background is a large Ukrainian clan but they mostly live far away. Vi and Andy taught us to nourish and honor our friendships and both my sister Maggie and I have benefited from their counsel. And now that I am fifty, with no children, and Maggie and her husband Tom living far away in Washington State, it is even more important that I have great friends. And they really came out of the woods for my birthday, and many of them really cranked it out to make it a great one.
Chuck, Mike, Freda, MaggieMike and Freda Cole, who have held some rocking parties over the years, know how to do it. Freda, east coast gal, can’t make enough food (and others contribute) and it is always beyond delicious. We will never starve at one of her gatherings. Mike takes care of the outdoor details – together they make everything flow. They are both real gracious hosts when the strangers start arriving and welcome all into their home. They moved to this big old farmhouse over a year ago and it is definitely made for holding an event like Kstock. There must have been close to one hundred folks there, but we were spread out around the property, there was lots of room for camping, lots of room for dancing – people could wander off for private tete-a-tetes, or whatever you might wanna do in the bushes.
Maggie & MIke on the bacon
My seeester Maggie came from Washington State and spent a couple days with Freda and Mike getting ready, helping Freda with food, and making the huge signs that could be seen a kilometer away on the road – “Kstock 2008″ – for those who didn’t know where they were going. The Kstock thing started with my friends Treeza and Rick north of Toronto (and Terry, Steve and Gloria), who not only started saying “we’re going to Kstock” but on my birthday card Rick provided a copy of his original ticket from the real Woodstock – kinda brought it all together.
Treeza & get-down Gloria
Chuck, Stu, Dawson & Coral
Then the gang from Westport came to truly turn it into a musical happening. Chuck, Carolyn, Marty, Sandy, Stu, Dave, Helen, John, Susan, Dawson and Coral filled their vehicles (a bad day for footprints in carbon) with instruments, speakers and camping gear and brought their various musical talents up the highway.
Nineth Line – a jump ‘n jive band kept us hopping;
Then the “other band” played by the campfire with mandolin, accordian, stand up bass and guitar, beautiful renditions of bluegrass, country and folk tunes (most notably, for this little Steve Earle worshipper, Copperhead Road). The music never stopped from early in the evening till I don’t know when in the early morning hours. Nineth Line had learned a couple new songs for the occasion – I’ve been bugging them to learn a Latin rhythm or two and they got it done. They were hot that night, and just kept getting hotter as the night went on.
Since I love to dance more than just about anything (well, dancing on a big rock in the middle of a lush forest beside a lake with a beautiful man who dances is ideal) this party played out just as I would hope to celebrate…we danced from start to finish, and I saw most of the folks up on their feet at some point. Of course, in Canada I’ve always found the dance floors filled more with females than males and this night was no exception – I’ll always remember a wild night in Montezuma, on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, when there were about thirty men dancing and only four women. Now that! was a dream…but I digress.
Then there were the people who had come from far and wide for the occasion: my sister probably came the furthest, from the mountains of Washington State. But the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee were represented by our friend Kathy Lowery, who left Hamilton and married an old sweetheart (and he is), Stan, a few years ago. Freda, our friend Dean, and I have ventured down a few times to Tennessee to visit them on their beautiful porch that looks out on those perty mountains. In that time we’ve become friends with some of theirs, particularly William and Missy Murphy and William’s parents Gerry and Shorty. We’ve spent a lot of hours on Kathy’s porch with the gang playing bluegrass and singing. William’s dad, Gerry, has been struggling with cancer for a couple of years and without him able to join in, William and Missy stopped playing music. At Kstock, they got up on the stage and sang a few sweet songs again, despite the lengthy absence from strumming and singing, and it was wonderful to hear them. They’ve got a couple of the biggest warmest smiles in the state, and that they would jump on their motorcycle and drive north from Tennessee for Kstock was another gift in my giftbag.
A couple days before the party, I got a phone call from my friend Jean Trickey, from Little Rock, Arkansas, who said she had booked her ticket and was on her way! We’ve managed to spend some great weekends together in the last couple of years, her daughter’s wedding in Little Rock, and the 50th Anniversary of the Little Rock Nine, of which Jean is one of those brave teenagers who back in 1957 walked through the hateful crowd to be one of the first black kids to attend Central High School. I had gone last year to Little Rock for the 50th, (a phenomenal occasion it was), seen John Lewis the freedom fighter, met Ruby Bridges the little girl in the Norman Rockwell painting, shook Bill Clinton’s hand, got snagged on his secret service guy…again, I digress…but Jean had been so busy on these occasions that we really only got to talk a bit late at night when she finally could sit down. So to have her come for the weekend for my birthday, stay for a few days and have some down time to just talk (alot about Barack and Hillary of course), to dance as we love to do, and to see her get up on the stage and belt out “Women be wise, keep your mouth shut, don’t advertise your man” (a wise old song) was another big deposit in the gift bag.
Jean being here brought out her sons Isaiah (we had real Toronto paparazzi there) and Sol from Toronto and their kids, Amelia and Jaaziah, who added extra joy and energy to the occasion. (Many of these photos were from either Isaiah, Peter or Marty – thanks guys)
K, Sol, Isaiah, & Miss Kathy from Tennessee
The Trickey clan is always interesting, fun, dynamic, and loud (in this gang, I don’t feel like the loudest in the room) – great to have three generations represented at Kstock. (Notice the photographic image of me on the cake – what will we eat next?)
Kay, Sol, Amelia & Jaaziah talk cake business
And then there was my soul sister Cocky who lives in a nature sanctuary outside of Freeport, Maine and her partner Peter MacMillen. They had been up in Temagami, on Peter’s beautiful island, and came down from the north for the event. Cocky has been here in the Hammer often, but Peter went well out of his way for this one.
And along with my close friends Linda and Bill Murray from Charlton (along with Jean and Cocky, we all lived up in the Temiskaming area of northeastern Ontario for years – the Murrays still do), Patti and Leo Lessard and Terry and Ted from Mattawa, they brought the fresh clean northern air down to the Hammer. Cocky, Jean and I are a feisty trio when we get together, which doesn’t happen very often, but I love these women and to have a few days together was beautiful.
Beyond these folks there was Bill and Cheryl from Virginia, Lynda and Carole representing Guelph, friends from Toronto, Freda’s family, fine Hammerfolk and good neighbours, a number of old high school friends I hadn’t seen in years, the now-getting-old kids of friends, and a couple of my favorite dogs, Alpha and Ziggy. It all added up to the best party ever.
After this wild summer of rain and thunderstorms, the sky was completely clear, the temperature perfect all night long for being outside dancing (I guess some people were sitting) or around the campfire, people camped in comfort and peace, and we all woke up to more sunshine. Freda and Mike and gang made us a big breakfast, only after making a deal with the Swingers to play just a few more tunes in the morning. That Stu can drum on anything! We swam in the pool and I opened my gifts (the ones not already in the giftbag).
Stu, John & Marty, most of the Swingers
I ceremoniously burned the box full of paper copies of Walking with Wolf (Steve Earle was doing his Sirius radio show in the background as this happened – it was all so poignant). I have been printing out copies of the manuscript for how many years? and no longer need them, so I put the box on the coals and slowly watched it catch fire and disintegrate. It was a cleansing and a celebration. If I do nothing else of value in my life, I managed to get this book written and published while Wolf and I are still alive, and miraculously before I turned 50!
It was at the moment that the last of the overnight guests had got in their cars and honked their way down the road, leaving only Freda, Mike, Maggie, Cocky, Jean and I with Isaiah and Jaaziah, that the storm hit. Everything had been cleaned up, put inside, as we could see the storm approaching over the fields. There was some heavy rain that we watched from the porch, amazed that this whole outdoor event went on without a hitch, not a drop of rain to spoil anything, no chance for a mud-dance like at the real Woodstock. Just as the storm seemed to have subsided there was one HUGE thunderclap with one HUGE bolt of lightning – Jean was just putting her hand on the outhouse door and was shook to her bones. Jaaziah was in the car, but Isaiah was still outside and could hear the sizzle of electricity in the air. I think Jean’s hair went a little curlier and we all jumped and were rocked all over. Just one CLAP that carried the power of the whole dark sky. How lucky were we that none of us were hurt by this extremely close electrical jolt – it would have been a horrible way to end perfection – and life has been so good for me lately that a bolt of lightning almost feels inevitable – and that the storm waited until our friends were safely on their way home. One last grand hurrah, the big finish, to Kstock 2008! The gratitude I feel to all my friends who came out and worked, then played, so hard is impossible to express. Peace, love and grooviness will have to do!
It is Sunday afternoon. I’m back at my wireless aerie here at Bob and Susana’s Cabure Cafe. The soft clouds are floating about, obscuring the treetops and reducing the view of the ocean today, but the sun is on the other side of the clouds and so it is warm and bright. Monteverde’s mists change the scene as constantly as our lives do – we go from great moments of clarity to dark clouds on our horizons to foggy obscurity and back to sun-sparkling visual bounty. Life constantly sends us down different paths and the peek around the next corner is sometimes taken with great anticipation, other times with great trepidation.
Wolf and I made a presentation yesterday to a group of visiting administrators from protected areas throughout the world from Conservation International. Representatives of Ghana, Guyana, Brazil and Figi along with a dozen other countries were there. We didn’t have more than a little time as their program was already very full, but it was nice to talk about the book and Wolf’s contribution to conservation to a group of people who participate in this work in protected areas every day. I never write down anything when I talk in front of groups and then often wish I had remembered to say such and such. However, I forgive myself and carry on. With each presentation, I’m sure I’ll get better, but it is also a matter of gearing what we say to our audience, adapting to English or Spanish, and the amount of time we have. It was an honor to have the time that we did to speak with these people – we left before we had a chance to sell books and our friend Mercedes was going to take care of that in the coffee break. Hope we sold some as just to know that Walking with Wolf would maybe end up in southeast Asia, Africa or South America soon is very exciting.
One place the book is going is to the Ukraine. This is very poignant for me, as my father’s parents were both from the Ukraine, having arrived as teenagers on the Canadian prairies in the early 1900s. My last name, Chornook, is the result of a Canadian customs agent’s choice of spelling – my grandfather was the only one of his family who was given this spelling from his original name Cherniuk. A woman here in Monteverde, Betsy, bought a book to send to her son who is a peace corp worker stationed in the Ukraine. So it was exciting to sign the book with the hopes that her son may run into one of my Cherniuk relatives while sitting with a traiga of vodka in a cafe.
The Quaker meeting this morning was, as always, silent – up until the last ten minutes or so. The first person to stand and speak was local biologist Mills Tandy who stood and thanked Wolf and I for writing the book and speaking so honestly about the community and recording this important history. He said, “I’ve waited with great anticipation for this book since I heard about it and have to say that it has far exceeded my expectations.” Well, his words brought tears to my eyes and they stayed there for the remainder of the meeting.
When it got to what is called after-thoughts, that is the moment after we have broken the silence and greeted each other but a chance is given for further thoughts to be expressed, Wolf’s wife Lucky stood up and, fighting her tears, talked about how people come and go in this community but so often come back and are always welcomed – and that is what makes it the dynamic place it is. Her son Antonio, wife Adair and their children Skye and Sam are headed back to Connecticut after one full year here. They left in a taxi for the airport right after meeting. Well this comment by Lucky started an outpouring of similar messages by a number of people both retiterating her thoughts or expressing something similar. Katy Van Dusen spoke about Ann Kreigel, a woman who lived here back in the 70s and then died suddenly and prematurely in the early 90s after being bitten by a squirrel. She had had a profound effect on Katy’s life and on many other programs and events in the community and was a great example of someone who came and left their valuable contribution here. Her sudden and early death was a reminder about the importance of expressing your love for those you care about each day. Katy also spoke through tears. It was hard to break up the meeting today – people seemed to want to stay and share their appreciation for this community and this meeting that gives us all a chance to be reflective, communal, spiritual and social all at once.
It is also Father’s Day and that of course makes me think of my father, Andy Chornook, who I write about briefly in Walking with Wolf, who died of cancer very quickly after diagnosis in 1996, twelve years ago. How the time has gone by. And thinking about that makes me think of the people I now know who are struggling with this nasty disease: my friend Lori Yates’ mother in Hamilton, who has just started chemo for lung cancer; Monteverde’s friend, Andy Sninsky, who is in Austria being treated for what is maybe bone cancer, maybe leukemia, maybe something else – Andy and his wife Inge have run the Good Times quarterly magazine that highlights Costa Rican and Nicaraguan tourism destinations for several years and have done a number of pieces of early publicity for our book. Wolf and I, as the rest of the community, have them in our hearts. And a female Andy, Andy Walker, who has lived for a few years with her talented family here in Monteverde and just left a day or two ago for further treatments in Texas on a difficult melanoma. Our thoughts follow her as well.
These tales of cancer diagnosis, treatments, survival and sadness go on relentlessly. As a survivor myself, I both identify with the fear and the difficulty, but also send messages of encouragement and strength. None of it is easy and I’m forever greatful to have lived to tell my own story as well as Wolf’s. For the most part I look down the trail with excitement and courage, but I know all too well just how scary that unknown bend in the trail can be.